Since the March outbreak of COVID-19 in the United States, every week of quarantine and self-isolation has been met with a dominating headline. On week one, we were all told to stay home, and by week three, we were told to wear a mask and gloves if we went outside for exercise or groceries. By week five, we were beginning to see headlines about wasted milk and rotting produce, and now, on week seven, headlines about disruptions in our meat supply chain have left many Americans rattled—and rightfully so.
As pointed out by Time, “meat has major symbolic value with many Americans.” Regardless of what our personal dietary habits are, for many people, not having the ability to purchase meat would be a major sign that the virus has disrupted life as we know it—not that there isn’t an abundance of signs already.
In similar fashion to farms, the source of America’s impending meat supply shortages isn’t a shortage of food but a shortage of workers—as evidenced by Tyson’s now-famous full-page advertisement in the New York Times that “the food supply chain is breaking.” While some experts have criticized Tyson’s claim alarmist, this comes from the widespread suspension of many operations after 900 workers tested positive for COVID-19 at one location. Similar results were found at a Smithfield plant in South Dakota where more than 850 workers tested positive for the virus.
Much like healthcare, agriculture, and retail, coronavirus has done a thorough job of revealing the inefficiencies found in our meat supply chain. Though it has been no secret that industrialized meat suffers its own issues related to overcrowding, labor, land use, and pollution, something less thought of are the implications of over consolidation on marketplace demand. Namely, if only a handful of companies are responsible for producing meat, then if those companies’ respective workforces call out sick, then the marketplace is out of luck.
How This Might Affect You?
Depending on where you live and what you purchase, this may affect you in different ways. Currently, we are seeing an abundance of fish alongside shortages of chicken and pork in our home region of North Carolina.
As far as pricing, some believe that the industrial meat supply shortage may affect most meats—including organic and grass-fed options. This is partially due to the increase in price for processing these meats on the business-to-business side, as well as a potential increase in demand pressure from panic-shopping consumers. The meats that are expected to experience the fastest increases in price will be pork and bacon. Finally, things like pre-flavored buffalo wings and other items that go through special steps will likely experience price increases as well.
Though the impulse may strike, experts warn customers not to panic buy during this time, as that is the current result of empty shelves in stores today—additionally, it can exacerbate the problem in areas that are more vulnerable to being affected by the current production shortages in meat. While that may mean fewer options to pick from, or meat making a less regular occurrence on your dinner table, now is a great time to explore new nutritional options such as going plant-based, vegetarian or vegan. Nobody is saying that you have to do these things, but now is as good a time as any to get started if reaching these goals is something that you have been putting off. Ultimately, however, the current problems facing the meat industry—like agriculture—are ones that are temporary. Moving forward in these times does mean facing some forms of disruption. While this may be an opportunity to start something new, for the meat-lovers among us that simply seek a return to normal: avoid panic shopping, make responsible purchases, and hopefully this will all be over soon.